Individual problems plague Cats

Freshman Archie Goodwin goes up for a rebound during the first half of the Men's Basketball game vs. Texas A&M at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

By Les Johns | @KernelJohns

ljohns@kykernel.com

Ryan Harrow’s mystery illness. Alex Poythress’ effort. Kyle Wiltjer’s (lack of) defense. Willie Cauley-Stein’s knee injury. Archie Goodwin’s lack of control. Individual issues have plagued the Cats this year, preventing them from gelling the way fans and media anticipated at the start of the season.

“I’m disappointed, Big Blue Nation, but I like my team and I believe we can still turn the corner,” UK head coach John Calipari said Thursday on CoachCal.com.

Recent NBA mock drafts still have up to four Cats as lottery picks next year. There is no other team that has that level of top-tier talent.

Despite all of that individual ability, however, the Cats have yet to put it all together and perform consistently as a team. The Cats are 12-6, with a 1-5 record against teams ranked in the top 100 of the NCAA RPI.

With Tuesday’s upset loss at Alabama, the Cats are desperate for quality wins and must avoid any further surprise losses the rest of the season. Calipari has essentially used a seven-player rotation since SEC play began. (Junior guard Jarrod Polson is averaging just 6.6 minutes per game.) Let’s take a look at those seven.

Sophomore guard Ryan Harrow Harrow came down with a mystery illness as the season started and did not fully regain his spot as starting point guard until the Cats hosted Lipscomb on Dec. 15.

He has scored in double figures every game since returning to the starting lineup, except for Tuesday’s game at Alabama, averaging 14.1 points per game during that stretch.

Harrow has struggled handling the ball and getting other players involved since conference play began. He had a 3.4 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio in non-conference play, but is at just 1.5 to 1 in SEC play.

Calipari has said that Harrow has spent extra time in the gym, working to encourage and gain the trust of his teammates. For the Cats to finish strong in the SEC, Harrow will have to be a vocal leader that helps to create shots for his teammates.

Freshman forward Alex Poythress “Alex is just the motor. We’ve got to get him to understand how hard on every possession you must play. When we get him there, he will be scary,” Calipari said about Poythress — in mid-September.

The bad news is that it is late January and the Cats are still wondering if Poythress will compete hard every possession. After the win at Auburn, Calipari thought that Poythress was making advances.

“Now we have to keep him rolling in that direction. He is playing three minutes at a time so he can just sustain that energy and get in the habit,” Calipari said about him on Monday.

Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer Wiltjer was abused mercilessly in the SEC opener at Vanderbilt. His defense was exploited, as the Commodores consistently isolated him and took him off the dribble repeatedly and the Cats barely held on to a much-needed win.

Offensively, Wiltjer was non-existent, scoring two combined points in the first two SEC games of the season. Not scoring and not defending, it was tough to see him getting many minutes in future games.

Wiltjer fooled everyone by hitting the gym and working out some of the kinks and is now playing with unbelievable confidence. “Kyle’s effort level has been off the charts,” Calipari said Monday.

Wiltjer has led the Cats in scoring three consecutive games and should have been more of a factor in the second half against Alabama. A few more touches for Wiltjer could have stemmed the tide and earned the Cats a win in Tuscaloosa.

Freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein had started five games in a row before going down because of a nagging knee injury.

In what was described as a “minor” procedure to clean up an injury that had been present since middle school, Cauley-Stein has missed the past two games.

His status has been described as day-to-day. The Cats need him back, but need him back healthy. Depth became a big issue for the Cauley-Steinless Cats against Alabama, something that became apparent thanks to Poythress’ foul trouble.

Freshman guard Archie Goodwin The Cats can’t beat a quality opponent if Goodwin decides to continually drive and shoot one against three and finishes the game shooting 2-of-12.

Since Harrow’s return to the staring lineup, the Cats are 3-0 when Goodwin shoots fewer than 10 times in a game, and just 3-3 when Goodwin shoots 10 times or more.

In those losses, Goodwin is shooting a dreadful 32.1 percent from the field. Goodwin can create and get to the rim better than anyone else on the roster, but for the Cats to be good he has to also find his teammates and stop forcing shots in traffic that have very little chance to go in.

Until he thinks pass first, this team will struggle. He has a greater opportunity to turn this team around than any other player at this point.

Graduate student guard Julius Mays Calipari wanted Mays to provide 3-point shooting and leadership. After going 4-of-5 behind the arc against Alabama on Tuesday, Mays is up to 35.8 percent 3-point shooting.

Leadership? At this point in the season, nobody can easily define who the leader of this team is. Mays never hurts the team while he is on the floor.

He does, however, have a difficult time hitting the shots he doesn’t take. The one criticism is that he has a bad habit of passing up open looks. The team needs him to take, and hit, open jump shots when the opportunity arises.

Freshman forward Nerlens Noel Noel has been the model of consistency in both effort and performance. He is just half a rebound a game away from AVERAGING a double-double, and that doesn’t even summarize the way he stuffs the stat sheet.

He leads the Cats in rebounds, blocked shots, steals, posterizing dunks and floor burns. His post-up offensive game still needs some work, but with so many other potential scorers on the floor that shouldn’t be holding the Cats back right now.

Noel is a sure NBA lottery pick and potential No. 1 draft pick this year. He will play seven more games as a Cat in Rupp Arena. Enjoy watching him play while you can.

People say that we Cat Fans are spoiled and not happy unless we win National Championships. You know what? To a small extent they are right. We are spoiled. We have been blessed over the years with high intensity and high impact players that play as a team. We expect to ‘compete’ for a championship every year, and we rightfully should. We obviously will not win one every single year but we should ‘compete’ every one of them. Right now, only half of this team seems willing to play team ball and ‘compete’. Alex just goes through the motions, Archie wants to be ‘the man’, Ryan gets bullied, and the rest have to try to make up for them. Wiltjer tries. He’s slow but he tries. Noel, you can’t fault anything he does. The effort and intensity are there as with Willy. I say we lose with Hood and Polson. At least we have effort. That’s the BBN expectations. Not wins, EFFORT. Play with pride and play as a team, which had we been doing all seaon we might be undefeated right now. Lets face it, we could have easily won every game we lost just by being strong with the ball, competing on the boards, and playing as a team. Period. Turn the corner kids or park the damn bus and let someone else drive.

This Kentucky squad remind of the movie blue chips. This squad just don’t have the will to win. It will be a different story when this recruting class come.

As a long time Cat fan living and traveling in many states, UK is truly a Big Blue Nation. We all want the best for every player that puts on a Kentucky uniform. That being said, Archie- you are killing us. We know you have great talent but you also have 4 other TEAMATES on the floor with you. Shoot if you are open, drive to the basket but pass the ball to your open teammate. An assist is just as valuable as a bucket and it definitely will raise your NBA stock. Think LeBron James and Dewayne Wade! PLEASE!

The one thing I love about being a Cat fan is we all live and die with our teams and we have very knowledgeable basketball IQ’s. Most of the comments are spot one in this article. I agree the number one problem with this team is Archie but I wonder sometimes that in a close game and mysteriously after a time out; Archie comes out and immediately goes one on three. My math tells me someone is open but he continues blindly towards the other teams shot blockers, who are by the way 6″ taller than he; and gets the ball sent into the first row and he promptly falls to the ground EVERY TIME! But the mystery hear is what in the world did they talk about in the huddle. I am sorry but Goodwin needs to sit and I do mean for an indefinite period of time. What is wrong with Jon Hood, who appears to do well enough to warrant a little more playing time? Is it even possible he can screw up more than Archie does?
I do disagree with my fellow fan that says Mays does not hurt us. He also plays Phantom defense and he has the same concrete shoes as Wiltjer. Guys while you are in the gym, use the bottom stair rung and rotate your feet up and down on the same step until you increase your foot speed or jump rope as boxers do.
Lastly, we should never get beat by one scorer which has plagued us this year. I wonder if Calipari has ever heard of a box and chaser. Anyway, I am showing my age and I apologize to any Cat fan and Coach Cal if I may have offended anyone with my comments because ultimately we all want the best for the Big Blue Nation.
MJ (The Poor One)

This team may not be quite the team we expected,But they are still our team.These are fine young men that we want the most for.Maybe we should not expect so much from this team.I think they are trying hard to win but lets face facts.If you can’t play with the players in the SEC its for sure you can’t play in the NBA.I think we should quit talking about these players being high draft picks and let them just be U.K. ball players.I don’t see any NBA players unless maybe Noel.Lets pull for these young men as I believe they want to win for the fans as much as for themselves.I think if Kyle and Alex will step up and play as go to players we can still have a good year.GO CATS

You should ask Archie Goodwin if he was to play as a team member or as an individual. If he wants to play as an individual, then I would sit him in the locker room for the rest of the season and tell him to go some where else.